Betty Lou Young dies at 91; Rustic Canyon writer and conservationist

Betty Lou Young, a longtime denizen of Rustic Canyon who wrote books about the history of Pacific Palisades and campaigned to preserve the Santa Monica Mountains and other open spaces, has died. She was 91.

Young died Thursday at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center after a short illness. She had been in poor health since suffering a heart attack in May, said her son, Randy Young. As co-writer and photographer for some of her books about the Palisades, Rustic Canyon and Santa Monica Canyon, he is credited as Thomas R. Young.

Although Minnesotan by birth, Young arrived in California as an infant and considered herself a native. Her fascination with and love for the canyon where she lived for more than half a century shone through in her prose.

“Through the years, Rustic Canyon has retained its charm by remaining outside the mainstream of history, by being somewhat reluctant and inaccessible,” she wrote in her first book, “Rustic Canyon and the Story of the Uplifters,” published in 1975. “People have come here from the earliest day to find refuge, to act out a charade or to live out a dream.”

Betty Lou Young was born May 18, 1919, in Minneapolis, the only child of Chester Haller, who ran a lumber warehouse, and Amy Haller, a teacher. Her parents separated when she was a baby and her mother moved with her daughter and parents to Long Beach.

“No snow and plenty of sunshine made Long Beach a utopia for my mom,” Randy Young said.

The family took frequent Sunday excursions to Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades, where Betty became curious about the wooded canyon where public roads ended and tales abounded of the antics of a mysterious Prohibition-era brotherhood known as the Uplifters. Regarded by many as a high-class drinking club, the Uplifters became the subject of her first book.

In 1940, Betty earned her undergraduate degree from UCLA, where she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. A lifelong Bruin fan, she endowed a collection of Southern California books and photographs at the UCLA library. She received a master’s degree in psychiatric social work from Smith College in 1942.

That year she married Thomas Young, a doctor who was shipping out with the Navy to the Pacific. He later became a pathologist at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica and chief of pathology at Santa Monica Hospital. He died in 1994.

In 1954 the Youngs and their three children moved to Rustic Canyon, where Betty would live for the rest of her life. In 1964, the family spent five months traveling to 40 countries. Betty and her husband later toured the top 100 golf courses in the United States, with Dr. Young playing a full round at each and Betty playing at some.

Betty Young was a fixture in Rustic Canyon, taking daily walks with her walking stick, giving talks about the area’s history, volunteering at polling places each Election Day and fighting to protect the eucalyptus grove at Rustic Canyon Park. In the 1960s, she campaigned to protect the Santa Monica Mountains as parkland after city planners revealed plans for a commercial and residential development. She was also instrumental in developing a park in Los Liones Canyon.

Young’s other books included “Our First Century: The Los Angeles Athletic Club,” " Pacific Palisades: Where the Mountains Meet the Sea” and “Santa Monica Canyon: A Walk Through History.” In 1975 she founded Casa Vieja Press, which continues to publish titles by the Youngs.

In addition to her son, she is survived by two daughters, Susan and Deborah Young.

A public memorial is planned for later this year in Los Liones Canyon.